Primal Body, Primal Mind, Primal Tools

There’s an old saying that when you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  If you’ve got a malfunctioning pancreas, a surgeon is likely to decide you need surgery, a medical doctor will decide  you need a prescription drug, and a therapist will suggest you heal your inner child so it will stop taking its emotional wounds out on your pancreas.

Sometimes these modern therapeutic tools are exactly what we need.  But sometimes they’re not.  Sometimes what we really need is a good, old-fashioned, stone-age tool … such as a hunter-gatherer diet. 

Here’s an example: some years ago, as I’ll explain shortly, I thought I needed a 12-step program, and perhaps some therapy to go along with it.  Turns out I actually needed a medium-rare steak.

I thought about that while reading Primal Body–Primal Mind, by Nora Gedgaudas.  The book covers a wide range of health topics – nutrition, metabolism, exercise, weight loss, vitamins and supplements, depression and other emotional issues – but ties them all back to one central idea:  physically, we are virtually identical to our Paleolithic ancestors.  We may drive minivans and listen to modern jazz on iPods, but our bodies and brains haven’t really evolved past the stone-tools era.  Your great-grandfather to the 10th power thrived on particular nutrients, and so will you.  The reverse is also true:  you probably won’t thrive if you fill you belly with foods he never ate.

Nora obviously ploughed through an enormous amount of research to write this book, and she summarizes it quite nicely.  She explains biochemical concepts clearly, while managing to sneak in a bit of humor here and there – always a plus with me.  I enjoy a book when the information is dense, but the writing style isn’t.

But what I especially liked is the reason she wrote the book.  Nora is a clinician who helps address brain malfunctions with a technique called neurofeedback, a kind of biofeedback for the brain.  With electrodes attached to your head, you play something akin to video games on a computer, and retrain how your brain responds to stress.  She’s used this high-tech tool to help clients with everything from depression to autism with impressive results.

Nora Gedgaudas

Nora Gedgaudas

And yet, she sometimes found that clients would make minor improvements, then stall.  Since she’s been studying nutrition for 25 years, she recognized that the neurofeedback treatments were being stymied by brain malfunctions that were rooted in a lousy diet.  As she explains in the preface:

“The brain and the body simply have to have certain raw materials to work with in order to function properly.  It is abundantly clear that all the brain-training in the world cannot create a nutrient where there is none, or remove a problematic substance which does not belong.”

So despite wielding a modern and effective tool, she knew these people needed a stone-age tool as well.  Tired of having to copy countless research articles on Paleolithic nutrition to give to her clients, she wrote Primal Body-Primal Mind so she could hand them a book instead.  It’s no surprise, then, that the book includes chapters detailing how the wrong diet can lead to depression, anxiety, ADD, bipolar disorders, and yes, alcoholism. 

Which brings me back to that medicinal, medium-rare steak.

Back in my starch-loving vegetarian days, I had a problem with alcohol.  The problem was that I craved the stuff.  If I drank a beer, I soon wanted another.  Then another.  Then another.  And if I didn’t have another, my brain would start to shut down.  I remember becoming sleepy and lethargic at parties, but feeling alert again after drinking yet another beer.  I even wondered how a supposed depressant could produce this effect.  (I never wondered for too long, because eventually I’d be drunk.)

Not wanting to be a lush, I swore off alcohol for long periods.  But I still craved the stuff and still got pretty drunk now and then, so eventually I started attending AA meetings. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to the 12th step:  I changed my diet.  After reading The Zone, I cut my carbohydrate consumption drastically and, for the first time in years, started stocking my refrigerator with meats.  I tossed the vege-burgers and the soybean mayo, and started cooking chicken and steaks.  I felt better, my overall mood improved, and I lost weight. 

I also lost the desire to drink.  I quit going to meetings because I didn’t see any point in continuing, and frankly, I have a limited tolerance for listening to people recount every stupid thing they ever did while drinking. 

(Before any recovering addicts decide to fire off an angry email, take note:  I’m not saying 12-step programs don’t have a place and don’t help people.  I’m saying I no longer needed one.)

A couple of years later, an immigrant waiter in a Lebanese restaurant served me a Lebanese beer instead of the non-alcoholic beer I’d requested.  I didn’t realize the mistake until I’d finished it.  I wondered what would happen.

What happened is that I enjoyed my lamb.  That’s it.  I didn’t want another beer.  The same thing happened when I intentionally ordered a beer a month after that, and again when I tried a glass of wine a few weeks later.

I still drink a beer, or a glass of wine, or a single-malt scotch now and then, but I don’t crave the stuff.   I’m not fighting the urge to keep drinking, because the urge isn’t there.  I literally can’t remember the last time I downed a sixpack, which I used to do quite easily … often as a warm-up for downing another one.

So why did changing my diet make such a difference?  I’ve wondered many times over the years.  Nora’s section on alcoholism offers a pretty good clue:

“Alcoholics are utterly dependent upon and regularly seek fast sources of sugar – alcohol being the fastest … the problem in alcoholism, in fact, really isn’t alcohol per se, but severe carbohydrate addiction … Once cravings for carbohydrates and dependence on carbohydrates as the primary source of fuel are eliminated, so are the alcohol cravings.  Training the body to depend upon ketones rather than sugar for fuel is key to this equation.”

I wasn’t addicted to alcohol; I was addicted to having fuel for my brain.  Thanks to my starchy, meatless diet, I was a sugar-burner. When I drank, I instantly became an alcohol-burner.  If I didn’t keep drinking, I’d run low on fuel and my brain would scream for more.  I didn’t need therapy, I didn’t need atonement, and I didn’t need to heal my inner child.  I needed to stop living on starch.

Which makes me wonder:   how many people are currently in therapy, when what they truly need is a Paleolithic diet?  How many people are sitting in some shrink’s office, feeling depressed and talking endlessly abut their mothers, because too many sugars and processed vegetable oils have screwed up their hormones?  How many kids are given a daily dose of drugs for ADD,  just before they finish up that big bowl of Cocoa Puffs and head off to school?

After reading Primal Body–Primal Mind, I’ve convinced that many (if not most) of these people don’t need drugs, and they don’t need therapy.  They need a stone-age hammer.

p.s. – Nora will begin hosting a show titled Primal Body-Primal Mind Radio on Voice America’s Health and Wellness Channel on May 20th.  In the meantime, you can read more about her work on her Primal Body-Primal Mind blog.

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51 thoughts on “Primal Body, Primal Mind, Primal Tools

  1. Ellen

    Great post, Tom. I’ll be getting myself a copy of this book. I believe most, of not all, mental and physical problems are rooted in poor dietary choices. Think of it in terms of engines.. you wouldn’t put regular gasoline in a diesel engine, because it would destroy the engine. Same with real food versus fake food. Fake food eventually destroys your body’s ability to function normally.

    I’ve pretty much come to that conclusion as well. You can imagine how annoyed I was when Dr. Oz said Oprah regained her weight because she has emotional problems … she’s not craving food, she’s craving love, etc.

    No, she’s craving food because Dr. Oz puts her on lowfat diets. She’s not getting the nutrients she needs, so her body is screaming “Feed me!”

  2. TonyNZ

    I think there’s more to it than simple carbohydrate addiction. Alcohol is pretty much proven to lower restraint. Therefore it would have to be a mix of the body thinking “FOODS! MORE FOODS!” and the brain getting the message and translating (poorly because of the alcohol) that more alcohol is required. If the body is not set up for carbohydrates (enzyme/fasting hypothesis a few threads ago) then the body doesn’t send the message for more, and the brain is free to apply it’s time to mentally undressing that… nevermind.

    It’s interesting the primal link, however. The one thing that is much different from early society (pre-agriculture) is that food is now reliable. Back then, when you successfully hunted a deer or something, you would gorge yourself, partly because you had no refrigeration, partly because you didn’t know where your next meal was coming. Given that alcohol tends to exacerbate “primal” urges, I could see this factoring. (Must finish 6 pack, don’t know when I’m going to catch the next one).

    Funnily enough, there is an old wives tale that if you have a big fatty meal before going drinking, you aren’t as sick the next day, and it seems to work. I always figured it was because the fat in the stomach would absorb a lot of the alcohol, moderating the takeup into the aqueous serum and buffering the liver. Maybe it’s because the body is sated without boosting the carb response enzymes.

    People tend to resist “primal” theories, however. They seem to think that we should have “evolved past that” by now. Case in point, I was having a conversation with someone about why we are the way we are. I commented that men are sexually attracted to women with large breasts, as it indicates they have a good chance of nutritionally supporting any children, therefore are a good mating choice. He said that that can’t possibly be true, because with formula and milk readily available it’s not important, and we have developed past these primitive and sexist (I kid you not, he seemed to think liking a woman’s figure was sexist, typical liberal nut) needs. I asked if he liked breasts. Through a longwinded answer to assure me he was not sexist, he eventually answered affirmative. Q.E.D.

    There are no doubt a number of factors involved, but I think sugar addiction plays a huge role, at least for many. When I went to meetings, they were exactly as Nora describes in her book: people eating donuts, drinking sodas and coffee, smoking, etc. Sugar and stimulants. There was often a “let’s go get some pie and ice cream!” outing afterwards.

    I’m hesitant to say all or even most alcoholics could drink moderately again if they gave up the carbs. But I also think there are others like me. If they hadn’t trained their bodies to be sugar-burners, they could probably have a drink without immediately craving the next one.

    This would make for an interesting study, wouldn’t it? How many people who can’t handle their liquor are truly addicted from the first drink, and how many could reduce or eliminate the craving with a change in diet.

    Maybe Anheuser-Busch would fund it.

    1. Walter Bushell

      While they are making so much money from alcoholics and people moving towards alcoholism?!

      OK, I knew that comment was satirical.

  3. Ellen

    Tom, your description of the AA meetings reminds of the descriptions in Kathleen DesMaison’s “Potatoes not Prozac” book. She has had some success in treating alcoholics with a low sugar diet.

    Interesting. Although if I were trying to bring down someone’s blood sugar, I wouldn’t recommend potatoes. I ate a lot of those during my vegetarian days.

  4. Matt

    I’ve put this book on my summer reading list as well, though I’ve always been of the opinion that, in general, the Paleo theory is crap. Well, let me quantify that. It’s crap that EVERYBODY should eat like our Paleo ancestors. As you’ve demonstrated, there may be benefits for certain types of people. It’s crap in the same way that the proclamation that any diet, whether it be low carb, low fat, whatever, is perfect for everyone.

    I can’t remember exactly what the deal is with alcohol, but I’m fairly it disrupts the citric acid cycle and, by extension, the release of fatty acids into the bloodstream and the gluconeogenesis pathway. Because of this, consuming too much alcohol on a low carb diet can cause your blood sugar to crash and result in alcoholic ketoacidosis. Not sure how all this works in someone who’s constantly consuming carbs, but if you were insulin resistant, it would make sense that the alcohol was preventing the release of energy into your bloodstream and causing your blood sugar to crash; if you were drinking any of the popular commercial domestic beers (i.e. Budweiser, Coors, etc), you were getting about 3-10g carbs per beer, which incidentally is enough to bring your blood sugar back to normal.

    That would explain why drinking a beer made me feel alert again. I stopped crashing for awhile.

  5. Sherri

    Hi Tom –

    I’m so glad you posted about your experience with alcohol and cutting out the carbs. I had pretty well the same experience. But I’ve not seen many other references to this happening to other people so I’m glad to know that I’m not alone. I commented about it at Dr. Eades blog at the time – over a year ago. But Googling around didn’t find many other folks mentiong this. Thanks very much for being willing to put it out there.

    I realize now that I started drinking more when I cut the fat from my diet. I lost the need to drink so much when I cut out most carbs from my diet, and of course, upped the fat. I was actually quite astounded as I had been battling the drinking problem for about 10 years at that point. Before cutting out the carbs, I would get this gnawing feeling in my gut everyday that seemed to only go away if I had a few drinks. Now I don’t have that feeling. Like you, I too still occasionally drink but it is no where near the frequency or quantity that I used to. And I just prefer not to most of the time.

    I must say that I think the addiction field is in about the same sorry state as the nutrition/diet field. There is this huge mass of scientists and academics who make lots of money, have great careers, go around giving talks to each other and writing papers. But exactly what help is there for the average person dealing with a drinking problem? AA, a religious group started in the 30s? That’s it, after all this time? It’s ridiculous!!

    I knew I had a problem and I always knew AA was not going to be the answer. But finally I made myself go to a meeting and it was worse than I thought. How exactly is sitting around talking about your drinking for years after you stopped helpful?? I won’t be surprised if you don’t get one of the AA followers criticizing you, saying you are just in denial, that you will always be an alcoholic. That is just one of their weird beliefs around alcohol. Yes, some people are helped by AA – it is pretty well the only help available. But many more are not.

    Not related to this blog post at all….but I just wanted to say I have been watching Fathead over again lately in small bits while I exercise. I am enjoying it much more the 2nd time through. Even though I knew most of this stuff, it is still alot to get through in one sitting. Also, I can so relate to you when you said you got angry. I was incredibly angry my first 6 months or so on low carb as I realized the damage that had been done to my health and life by the completely wrong health advice. On low fat, I gained weight, lost my gall bladder, had bouts of depression and developed a drinking problem. By cutting out the carbs and adding fat back to my eating, I’ve lost 35 lbs, don’t need to drink anymore, don’t take antidepressants but unfortunately I can’t get my gallbladder back.

    Sorry to hear about your gallbladder. Yes, it really did make me angry when I realized how wrong the lowfat diet theory is. I started thinking back over the years — the weight gain, the reflux, the asthma, the lethargy, not to mention the problems with alcohol — and wondered how much of it could have been easily avoided.

    I’m not trying to pick a fight with AA, but after my experiences, I can’t help but wonder how many people currently in a program could drink moderately if they broke the sugar addiction.

    1. Rebecca Cody

      Don’t quote me on this, because my reference is my own brain with not much I can put on paper, but I read somewhere that the originators of AA planned to include the importance of good nutrition in the program, but someone with a vested interest somewhere stopped that. It all had to do with $$$, of course.

  6. Wanda

    Interesting post, Tom. What you said about needing a stone age hammer… reminded me of your fantastic march blog about Jane Brody’s Cholesterol Headache! Can’t wait until the next one!

    Jane could use a whack from a stone-age hammer as well. Then she could get off those stupid statins.

  7. Gabi

    I work in a situation where I come in contact with addicts on a daily basis. I have noticed that they ALL are sugar rats. When removed from their substance of choice they become obsessed with candy and snacks. Drink juices and sodas till they bloat and gain huge amounts of weight very quickly.

    Myself I used to take Zoloft, be depressed, anxious, agoraphobic and fearful all the time. Since lowcarb entered my life I have no such problems any more…

    Coincidence? I think not.

    I’ve also had people suggest I changed my diet just about the time I underwent a spiritual transformation that took away my alcohol addiction, so it’s all coincidence. I think not at as well.

  8. Laurie

    Boozlers, chemical thermodynamics, Taubes, arithmetic, hunter-gatherer ancestors…….. I’ve taken four courses in calculus up to and including differential equations and also physical chemistry….the first semester is thermo.
    Taubes made me rethink “calories in vs. calories out”. Before, I just hadn’t thought about it at all because it was a mantra and I know something about thermo and that its laws are inviolable. In a bomb calorimeter in a lab, burning carbs yields 4 calories/gram. And burning fat yields 9 cals/gram. Consider that in the human body, ingested cellulose, a carb, yields 0 calories because we can’t digest it and we get nada out of it. No laws of thermodynamics are harmed if you consider that ingested carbs and fat yield up to a MAXIMUM of 4 and 9 cals/g respectively. But, what if ingested fat is recruited for brain building, hormone making, thermogenesis and other processes and not primarily for storage. And when overeating carbs, simplifying the arithmetic up to the maximum, it is VERY easy to eat 100X more grams of carbs (think a ‘Krispy Kreme’ donuts binge) than to eat too much bologna, so one could take in 400 calories vs. 9 calories. Multiply this ad infinitum and you get fat because insulin is the fat storage hormone and the HUNGER hormone. For survival in the past, when our ancestors came across any food like fruit and berries, insulin screamed “eat all you can eat and store” fat for times of less (like during sleep) or for longer term famine. Insulin is also very protective of the brain when the carbs lead to a rise in blood sugar. Insulin helps to squirrel away the excess by conversion to fat and to get that poison the hank out of the blood. This is to moderate blood levels so high sugar doesn’t fry the delicate, sensitive- to-glucose BRAIN.
    Personally I loved sweets- until I read Taubes’ GCBC. Then I stopped eating them, no longer massively crave them, and started thinking more clearly.

    After reading GCBC, I’ve drastically reduced the number of special occasions or “what the heck” days where I consume potatoes or bread. I can just picture the stuff turning to glucose and initiating that whole cascade of effects that leads to fat storage.

  9. Dana

    Tony: it’s not true that larger breasts are more likely to have milk unless you are comparing a C cup to a flat chest, and even then you aren’t accounting for pregnancy-related and postpartum changes to the breasts. Primitive people would have known that because the earliest ones went around in warm climates and hence often went topless, and everybody observed everybody else raising kids from an early age; we didn’t segregate people by age and we didn’t hide reproductive issues from children. And what those early people knew would have been passed along to their descendants. We haven’t run entirely on instinct in a long, long, LONG time.

    It’s not even true that all men prefer larger breasts. I have lost count of how many times I have heard men say that despite what they see portrayed as “sexy” in the media, “anything more than a handful is a waste.” They are especially disapproving of augmented breasts. And this came from men who were not interested in me as well as those who were, so it wasn’t trying to get into my good graces. (Not that I’m that small up top anymore.)

    That said, I agree with your general observation that people these days reject the idea that we haven’t changed much since the Paleolithic. Part of it is idolizing technology and scorning nature, too, as your friend’s remark about formula demonstrated.

    More generally: I wish I could remember the title, but a few years ago I found a book at the library about dealing with depression. The author, an MD, came out emphatically against prescribing SSRIs for every little mental health problem because they can cause neurological damage, sometimes permanently. He said there have been studies where people with mental health issues were first put through a physical exam and extensive lab work to make sure they didn’t have underlying health problems elsewhere. Turned out a majority of them did! And doctors aren’t checking for this stuff. You tell them you’re depressed or anxious, first thing they do is put you on a brain drug. I’ve seen this myself–they even did it to me when I was pregnant. It’s scary!

    My dad’s an alcoholic, has been since his late teens (he’s almost sixty now). He eats a lot of white bread and rice. I’m sure it is no coincidence.

    I’ve learned not to get in the middle of debates about breasts.

  10. Tim

    Hey, thanks for bringing Nora Gedgaudas’ work, book, blog to my attention, I’m sure other reader’s of your fine blog are glad for any new info. And thanks for the movie, I recently re-watched SuperSize Me, and then followed it up with Fat Head- The Movie. I certainly took away alot different view of things.

    Good stuff, all, and now I’m digging deeper into Nora Gedgaudas’ work. Stellar stuff, and her take on immune system health is very timely with the current media blitz regarding a potential flu pandemic. I’ve been grain free, super ultra low carb, and high with vitamin D (getting out in the sun, too!) for quite a long time and feel great for it.

    Keep digging up more and bringing it to our attention! Books, blogs, articles, all keep adding depth to solidify my “paleo” leanings in life. Some how I like a little confirmation from time to time, as the conventional wisdom from media and folks around me gets so conflicting!

    I realized after the film was released (and after taking a break from it all) that there’s more I want to say. I’ll keep the blog going as long as I believe it’s informative and entertaining. Glad you’re enjoying it so far.

  11. Tony K

    Nice work finding this book. I think it hits right on the spot. I also wrote an open letter to Oprah a few months ago on Emotions for Engineeers.

    And thanks to for Making Fat Head. I think it turned my wife around. She didn’t believe me. No…


    Good letter. I exchanged emails with one of Oprah’s research people, and I explained how lowfat diets are self-defeating. We’ll see if that goes anywhere.

    Dr. Oz is basically blaming her for giving in to hunger, which rather conveniently excuses himself … hey, my diet is great, but she’s too weak to stay on it.

    I think the idea that she regained the weight because she has emotional problems or is weak-willed is ridiculous. Look at all this woman has accomplished in life, then try to tell me she’s weak-willed. She started eating more again because that stupid diet convinced her body she was starving.

  12. Nancy LC

    Tom, I’ve had a lot of very positive health changes on a “mostly” Paleo diet. I could bore everyone with a long list of complaints. But I bet if most people tried a paleo diet for a couple of weeks, and really gave it a fair shot, they’d probably be shocked with how much their other diet was dragging them down.

    I lost a brother to alcoholism many years ago so I am glad to hear when anyone is able to beat that evil genii.

    I think it was Barry Sears who said that every time you eat, you’re drugging yourself. Bad drugs = bad results.

  13. TonyNZ

    Dana, It’s true larger breasts don’t necessarily have more milk. I also don’t find huge breasts appealing, nor very skinny women (also pushed in the media and possibly a root cause of the dogmatic diet system around at the moment). But there is undoubtedly a reason that makes males (in general) attracted to breasts, not necessarily large breasts, as a sign of fertility. My view may be slightly odd to most, I grew up on a dairy farm and was never shielded from the facts of life. Big udders on cows definately don’t mean more milk, though the size of the udder in relation to the relative proportions of the rest of the cow can be a good indicator.

    And I never intended to put forward the idea that we run on instinct alone. What I am saying is that people too often try to ignore instinct (case in point, nut that thought sexual attraction was sexist, extreme but relevant). Some people find it more difficult to overcome these instinctual urges, so binge on the sugar.

    It’s a problem that is only getting worse with the parenting styles that don’t discipline their children for vandalism because “they are only expressing themselves”. Along with diets consisting of cocoa puffs (kind of a whipping boy on this forum) and sodas as much as they like, they never learn to supress urges.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying addictions can be overcome with self will alone, but it does help prevent addictions being formed in the first place. I think people need to be aware of, understand and work with their instincts to get the most from society.

  14. Lizzy

    I am a senior psychologist who works in acute psychiatric care and it never fails to astound me the amount of carbohydrates people with acute mental illness put away. We see people for all sorts of different mental health issues including severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Some of our inpatients regularly drink 6-7 litres of fizzy sugar laden drink EVERY SINGLE DAY as well as sweets and lollies and cakes and 15 teaspoons of sugar in their coffee. The psychiatrists (the ones with the medication prescribing rights) try them on many different medications all the time because funnily enough the preceding medication hasn’t worked and the person is still highly distressed and unwell. So the cycle continues… Obesity on anti-psychotic medication is a very common and well known side effect of taking such drugs however it’s a chicken and egg situation as to what actually drives the weight gain. Don’t get me wrong – I know schizophrenia isn’t purely caused by carbohydrate ingestion but it is completely unsurprising that many of our patients don’t do as well as they could as a direct result of their food intake. By not changing their diet in addition to medications (when required) I believe we are constantly fighting a losing battle. The hospital dieticians are no better and continue to suggest a “healthy wholegrain based diet” for our patients. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried to talk to the co-ordinators of our unit about the psychological and physical benefits of low-carb eating even providing them with plenty of books and articles. It falls on deaf ears – picture a bunch of psychiatrists with their fingers in their ears going “LA LA LA LA LA I can’t hear you!” I will continue to talk to whoever will listen. I won’t give up.

    I’ve been low-carb/paleo for over a year now. Lost a ton of weight, feel amazing, have perfect blood test results… you know the drill. Yet there are days when (to borrow an analogy from The Matrix movie) when I wish I hadn’t swallowed the red pill and remained blissfully unaware how my “healthy” low-fat diet was killing me because facing such overt rejection from my colleagues pisses me off beyond belief.

    I think that was the point Nora was making in her book. Some people no doubt have genuine mental problems and require treatment, but if they’re screwing up their bodies and brains with a high-sugar, high-carb diet, the treatment’s not going to do much good. If the sugar isn’t the root cause, it certainly appears to be an aggravating factor.

    I feel your frustration. I know people who are vegetarians and eat a lot of those lovely whole grains, convinced it’s the ideal diet, but they have all kinds of health problems: arthritis, autoimmune disorders, bone loss, etc. But you can’t convince them the diet is the problem.

    1. Walter

      And here I thought my 2 liter per day soda habit was over the top. 5′ 4 and well over 300 pounds. (1.5 meters , 136 kilos).

      Boy did the weight fall off when I managed to quit the soda and juice.

      Hey that stuff is completely vegan except for the food coloring in the sodas.

  15. Laurie

    Paleo, human instincts and evolution of cellular life.
    Cells have been evolving for about 3 billion years (give or take a billion). If we are going to talk about human evolution and instincts, let’s look farther back shall we? It never quite made sense to me – the mantra that insulin was required for cells to take up glucose to burn as fuel (like a lock and key). I don’t suspect multi-celular organisms would have ever evolved if the fuel needed to maintain cellular life had to have help getting inside. This is what I think is happening. And it suggests why type I diabetics are usually slim and type II’s are usually plump. Our cells don’t need any help with uptake of glucose. Type I’s lack insulin and need to supplement with it to survive. Insulin regulates the level of blood sugar by facilitating the conversion of excess into glycogen in the liver. And, beyond that, conversion to fat for safe storage sequestered away in the fat cells. Since high blood sugar is TOXIC to the brain, insulin is required to modulate blood sugar quants. Untreated type I’s spill excess glucose in their urine. They need to get rid of it. Well controlled Type I’s have just enough insulin to tightly modulate blood sugar levels and not much left over for the conversion to fat. Type II diabetes is a more slowly progressing syndrome. Insulin is in good supply and excess ingested sweets are converted, and converted and continue to be converted into fat for storage. With constant and unending carbs in the diet, the fat cells will NEVER release their accumulating fat into the blood for ‘alternative fuel’ to the glucose that’s already there in abundance. It’s a one-way, brain protecting, trip. Type II’s may need supplemental insulin for more complicated reasons and they develop the dreaded ‘insulin resistance’ – also multifaceted, but the CAUSE is simple sugars and carbs in the diet. Insulin is the hunger, fat storage and aging hormone, (AGE’s, advanced glycation (gly=sugar) end-products).
    Refined sugar and cheap sources of it is pretty new. HFCS is even newer (and especially deadly). We humans are attracted to sugar for a reason. It was okay for our ancestors, before, when they couldn’t get too much of it. Our survival instincts and attraction to sweets helped us, well, to survive.
    And don’t get me started on vegetable-frankenstein-oils replacing animal fats. After WWI, the paint, varnish and putty industry needed someplace lucrative to dump their product. They tried an experiment of feeding it to turkeys, but they died, so the stuff started being added to human feed. Vege PUFA’s are ‘drying’ compounds, components of human arterial plaque that recruit cholesterol to try to rescue the victims vessels from the PUFA’s. In the rescue process the cholesterol becomes oxidized (to keep other structures from being oxidatively damaged). Then the cholesterol in the plaques gets blamed as the cause of the plaques.
    One last comment, the PETA, and CSPI people are confused about our omnivorous nature (we’re closer to omnivorous carnivores than carnivorous omnivores anyway). There ARE issues with the current industrial-agricultural complex. CAFO’s (confined animal feeding operations) and feeding grass-eaters corn is a totally separate and dangerous aspect of our human instincts and need to eat more meat and fat.

    Well said. I hope someday we get away from the feed-lot method of producing beef. I suppose the only way it’ll happen is if enough consumers demand the grass-fed variety.

  16. TonyNZ

    Its not just meat, many dairy farmers are supplementing with grain to up their milk production. This is a relatively recent development on a large scale, so the effects are yet to be seen. It probably wont be as bad as all-grain beef, as most still get 50-80% of their nutrients from pasture, but it can’t be good, particularly as the metabolic systems of dairy cattle have been much more honed through artificial selection than beef, so any sudden change like this will have added effect.

  17. Laurie

    Revive your inner-primal ancestors and reconnect with them. When I read Taubes’ GCBC 10 months ago ( I recorded the date when I finished it because I knew it would change my life), I was astounded by all of it but a few compelling sentences were the real AHA’s and OMG’s that drew me in. I sat and read it in two days, and then I read it again. One early statement was that the brain is 70% fat and that the membranes of all our cells (100 trillion of ’em, more or less) are lipids. Their ‘health’ is vital to our health. Since then I’ve continued to learn a lot more. Did you know that 1/2 the weight of the cerebral cortex is CHOLESTEROL! ? When I first heard about ‘FATHEAD’, I was immediately drawn to it BECAUSE of the title. And I wasn’t disappointed. I have purchased and handed out copies to all ‘Dear Ones’ in my life. I’ve been handing them out like CANDY (that is not a verboten item in this context). And you will be happy to know that your documentary is just the right mode of transmission of this information for some. I’ve discovered that GCBC is not for everyone- but your documentary is! Thank you for producing it.

    I appreciate the compliments about the film. It does seem to provide that “aha” moment for people who aren’t likely to read the science-heavy books out there, but are willing to watch a film.

    In the “credit where credit is due” department, Dr. Mike Eades was the driving force behind how much of Gary’s work appeared in the final version of the film. He viewed an earlier version of the film and liked it, but told me there was more to the story, and urged me to read GCBC — which wasn’t even out yet. He had read a preview copy Gary sent him.

    I read it as soon as I could — and was astrounded, of course — and then Mike put me in touch with Gary, who made sure my vastly simplified version was still correct.

  18. Laurie

    And another thing about primal diet and animal fat being crucial for human health- Every one of our 100 trillion cells is surrounded by a 10 nanometer thick LIPID (FAT) membrane. That’s very thin, but the combined surface area, I’ve calculated, is two football fields side by side. Proper and consistent fat ingestion and composition is crucial to the health and fluidity of these membranes. Also, we harbor about 1000 trillion symbiotic, friendly gut bacteria. Their combined surface area is not as impressive, BUT they turnover at a rapid clip and we provide all the raw materials for their reproduction. In a lab, in a petri dish, they can double their population in 20 minutes. I don’t know the speed of this for the E. coli in our guts. But, to put this delicately- ” bacteria comprise approximately 30% of the mass of” human solid waste. So we must have to constantly provide them with high quality nutrients.
    I’ve read recent research is illuminating the different proportions of types of bacteria harbored in the guts of thin vs. obese people. There is a measurable difference. One study confirmed that ” the intestines of the obese group were higher in Firmicutes and lower in Bacteriodetes than a comparison group of lean individuals”
    The report goes on to say this is the CAUSE of obesity. Oy Vay.!!!!!!!! How about it is the result of obesity or just a correlation? We are swimming upstream against a mass of mis-information, starting with the eat-low-fat, high carbs mantra that is KILLING folks.

    You would think scientists, of all people, would know not to confuse a correlation with a cause, and yet they do it all the time. I keep hearing how obesity “causes” this or that disease, when it’s just as likely (more likely, really) that the obesity and the diseases are being driven by high blood sugar.

  19. TonyNZ

    Laurie, in addition to your comments, cholesterol (among other things, but largely cholesterol) is what regulates cell membranes so they are not too fluid or too rigid. Kind of the groundskeeper in your football field analogy.

    My dad was on Lipitor for 20+ years, and I think that has a lot to do with his current health problems. Based on one bogus idea that was never proven — cholesterol causes heart disease — we have been giving people drugs to interrupt a natural process.

    As Malcolm Kendrick pointed out about the high levels of cholesterol in eggs, obviously Mother Nature decided it takes a lot of cholesterol to make a healthy chicken. If your body is producing cholesterol, there’s a reason.

    If I’d known then what I know now …

  20. PaleoRD

    Interesting point. I have always had a fondness for beer especially the really hoppy and heavy craft brewed stuff that is popular here in San Diego because of all the microbreweries. I have no desire to drink wine or liquor, I would guess that the higher carb content of beer is what is driving my love of it! Interestingly, after reasing GCBC about a year ago I immediately switched my diet to mostly meat and dairy, and my main indulgence was about 12-20 good beers over the weekend (I’ve never had a sweet tooth, but definitely a beer tooth). I noticed that my tolerance to alcohol skyrocketed! I am guessing that the liver is either less stressed by not having to deal with carbs all day or that my increased intake of protein is allowing for more alcohol degrading enzymes to be made. Has anyone else noticed a similar effect in their bodies?

    I couldn’t say for sure. When I was a major sugar-burner, I could drink one beer after another. Now I just can’t put them away like that. I also can’t even think about eating a whole bag of chips, which I could do in my sugar-burner days.

    The irony is that I never liked candy or sodas very much, and didn’t consider myself a sugar-eater.

  21. Nora Gedgaudas

    Hey Tom–

    I want to thank you for this glowing and beautifully written review of my book. I find your personal account both fascinating and validating.

    I am hesitant to categorize my book as a “paleo-diet book” since I disagree with so many assertions of popular paleo writers such as Loren Cordain and S. Boyd Eaton (who tow the mainstream “low-fat” party line). Although I do feel that in order to best understand our nutritional requirements we do need to look at the selective pressures that generated them (all the way back to the primordial seas) …my book covers a great deal more than the “paleolithic perspective”. It’s also much more than just a book about low carb diets. It takes into account some basic human physiology, common nutritional deficiencies, the work of respected nutritional pioneers and recent research in the area of human longevity…something that modifies the paleo perspective significantly. –It’s what the twist in my title refers to “(…and Didn’t)”. In addition, I take a unique look at diet from a mental health perspective, as something I see the evidence of daily in my clinical practice. I also take into account the complexities imposed upon us in the modern world in which we live and offer my perspective on what we might do to compensate for the innumerable and unnatural insults our primal physiologies are forced to contend with (that our ancestors never had to).

    Tom’s wonderful, valuable and very personal take on the alcoholic perspective as something he came across in my book really only scratches the surface of the tip of the Primal Body-Primal Mind iceberg. It is very true, however, that I have seen dramatic turnarounds in other alcoholics I have worked with literally within days of adopting a strict “no carb” regimen (coupled with compensatory nutrients as a “training wheels” means to help facilitate the transition safely).

    But I digress….

    Tom, I find myself thoroughly enjoying your blog and your excellent writing. I must say, I’m glad we found each other! I think it’s fair to call me a fan.

    Yours in ketosis, 🙂

    ~Nora Gedgaudas
    Author of Primal Body-Primal Mind: Empower Your Total Health the Way Evolution Intended (…and Didn’t).

    Hi, Nora — That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed your book: it covers way more than just diet.

    I’ve lost count of how many books and papers I’ve read since I began working on Fat Head, but I never came across a single reference (that I can remember, anyway) to alcoholism until Primal Body-Primal Mind. That section was quite an eye-opener, for obvious personal reasons.

    Keep in touch. I’m also a fan, and looking forward to your radio show.

  22. Sue

    I’ve got to get me a copy of this book!

    Does the book look at bulimia and anorexia?

    Seems like they might’ve been mentioned, but I’m not seeing them in the index. I don’t believe there’s a section devoted to those disorders like there is for alcoholism.

  23. Sue

    Tom, Does your DVD ship to Australia and will it be in the correct format for Australia?

    The DVD that Amazon ships is coded for region 1, so I believe it’ll depend on your player. If any Aussies out there have ordered it and been able to play it, give us a shout.

    In the meantime, our distributor is working on non U.S. DVD deals, but it’s slow going.

  24. Sue

    Hubby said that we need Region 4 for Australia.

    I know the distributor is looking DVD markets around the globe. They know there’s demand out there, but I guess it’s a country-by-country effort to get it carried.

  25. Morgan

    What a great thread. A superb review of a book I now must buy, Laurie’s concise explanation of what is going on with insulin. Thanks Tom and all the contributors to this comment thread.

  26. Katie Jay

    This is really interesting, Tom.

    Kathleen Des Maisons wrote The Sugar Addict’s Total Recovery Program, and in her book she talks about putting recovering alcoholics on her sugar-addict’s food plan. Their relapse rate went down. No wonder!

    I’ll be buying Gedgaudas’ book. It sounds great!

    I’m sure you’ll like it. Did Des Maisons write about alcoholics being able to drink moderately after changing diets? Avoid a relapse is great, but what surprised me was realizing I could indeed drink moderately — in AA, you’re told that’ll never happen. So either I was never a true alcoholic, or breaking the sugar addiction meant breaking the alcohol addiction as well.

  27. Matt R.


    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I bought the book last week and am almost halfway through. It’s nice to have all of the great ideas about healthy eating in an easy-to-understand book.

    Also, as the spouse of a recovering alcoholic, I’m always amazed at the amount of junk food at the AA meetings I’ve attended with my wife. Seems like they’re trading in one demon for another.

    Yup … or it’s the same demon in two different forms. But at least a donut doesn’t make you forget which lane on the highway is yours.

  28. Candace

    You know, a person couldn’t really be blamed for wondering whether all the nutritional fallacies preached and enforced by government agencies over the years weren’t part of a pattern… it’s like they want to do everything possible to make people unhealthy and miserable. I mean you’d think that if it was by accident, they’d actually get it right once in awhile. Instead they get it wrong ALL the time. They even resisted for decades the idea that ingesting green leafy vegetables had a hugely positive impact on health, until finally they just got buried under the weight of studies that proved the benefits. It was like “Just don’t over eat, because being thin is all that really matters.”

    Growing up I wasn’t a big fan of meat or fats (except in the form of junk), and I would literally eat a whole row/box of crackers AND a whole box of cereal a day fairly regularly. I was naturally thin, but my mood swings were horrible. I was always depressed and often foggy, too.

    Since I started eating Paleo foods awhile back after reading Vinny Pinto’s work and others’—avoiding even grains like brown rice—it’s been like night and day.

    Thank goodness for people like you guys… the more teachers there are, the more likely people like me are to stumble across the information. Your documentary is awesome and I really want this lady’s book.

    I appreciate the compliments on the film, and Nora’s book is definitely worth adding to your library. It’s not thick enough to scare people off, but it’s packed with good information.

    1. Walter

      The thing is industrial foods are cheaper and have longer shelf life and hence are more profitable — the markup on junk food is incredible. Plus by selling us skim milk at regular milk prices allows them to sell the butterfat at higher prices as cream, butter and ice cream. What a racket. Ice cream is frequently eaten by people starved by low fat all day at night when the elephant[1] wins.

      I’m sure that many of your readers are familiar with the syndrome.


  29. Rachel

    “Primal Body – Primal Mind” has become my favorite book on the topic of nutrition, replacing the wonderful, and still relevant, “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon in the number one spot. In fact, I cal PB-PM the book I was meaning to write (and then some!), now I don’t have to do all that work, phew!

    For the woman that was asking about anorexia and bulimia I highly recommend Julia Ross’ books “The Mood Cure” and “The Diet Cure.”

    Nora’s book is one of the best.

  30. Melissa

    found this as a link from latest entry!

    I had a similar problem, except it wasn’t with alcohol, it was with soda pop.
    Once I was “very clean” into eating paleo like when I do have something I never go crazy or have the need to have more pop, or cake or whatever it may be.

    I hardly ever have it , I stick mostly to my protein, higher fat, so that when I see pop now I don’t even have the compulsion to drink.
    Before I would have tried to cut the pop out, keep eating high carb and then i’d binge on the pop after a few days.
    Not very productive.

    You were fighting your body’s need for fuel, same as I was.

  31. Babs Dangelo

    I think when it comes to diet, “one size doesn’t fit all”. My daughter has been glutein-free for several years. She also doesn’t consume alcohol, sodas, pastries, doughnuts, “fast-food”, etc. However, when she went “paleo” last fall, within two weeks she began having stomach aches, and fatigue. She normally hikes many miles daily in the woods, but her energy waned on the paleo diet.
    Subsequently, she added small amounts of rice, quinoa and millet. Her problems vanished.
    She’s now doing “food combining”, which calls for fruit in the AM only. Each meal contains all the veggies possible, but carbs and meats aren’t mixed at any one meal. She likes how her stomach feels on this regimen.
    Since she’s been doing this, her health has optimized…but then she also changed other things as well. She began taking Maca powder — (has stopped because it’s quite powerful) and began blues/tango dancing… Whatever the cause, she noticed that her body temperature is up a degree (which is good), and that she withstood catching colds, although those around her were falling like flies.
    I think the vast majority of people are eating to horribly, that any improvement will make big differences. Plus, the paleo and Weston Price approach makes a lot of sense biologically.
    It will never filter down the the mainstream, I’m afraid. I was just in the hospital, and I swear, they were trying to kill me with their “food”. My family had to go shopping for me because there wasn’t ONE ITEM on the trays that was healthful! Here it is: white roll with “promise”; Splenda, overcooked, mushy carrots and zucchini, mashed (?) potatoes, and very gravied chunks of “meat”, and jello. HELP!

    1. Walter Bushell

      And the potatoes were not doubt made with “spread”. Its hard to come up with a meal worse than a “Happy Meal”, but hospital manage. “With malice towards all and charity towards none.”

      Actually the people irresponsible for the diet probably cannot bear to think they are wrong, because the quilt would be too strong for them to consider that proposition like the doctors that hounded Semmelweis to death. It’s hard for anyone to acknowledge that they have been committing genocide.

  32. Name

    Uh-huh, not following here. Ethanol is not a carbohydrate.
    Certainly some drinks have lots of sugar in them, but
    in general, metabolizing ethanol eats glucose (in the liver).
    This is a a well-known effect
    and it triggers food cravings, too (although drinkers prefer to
    call this “aperitif”). I sometimes theorize that
    this is the reason why moderate drinkers seem to have
    slightly better health – poor man’s antidiabetic so to

    Perhaps a slightly different explanation for the same thing. If your body has lost its ability to burn fat efficiently, you must burn quicker fuels, such as glucose or alcohol. So I drink, I burn alcohol, and meanwhile I’ve suppressed my liver’s ability to produce glucose. Alcohol burns off, can’t make enough glucose, now I’ve got real fuel emergency on my hands. So I’ll crave sugar or more alcohol.

  33. Tech

    I wonder if you and I are clones Tom…. what you describe regarding the beercravings is exactly my experience.

    The clone 🙂

    I always felt as if part of me was somewhere else …

  34. Béji

    I like this post (not the only one, but particularly this one, and I read Primal Body, Primal Mind too)
    I’d like to make a french translation of this post. Can I ? I’ll naturally add a link to your blog (and I won’t translate every FatHead posts…be quiet 🙂 ) and specify that it’s a translation, not my own post.
    You can answer me by email.
    Thank you.
    Best regards,

  35. Shaun

    Another huge improvement switching to a “Paleo” diet has been my freedom from the booze. Half of our dog-walking time every evening was a chat about what we were going to drink afterwards. Alcohol-centred conversations are absolutely a thing of the past for me now; in fact, at the age of 38, I find myself keeping the cork out of wine bottles because I know I’ll be using it to plug the bottle back up without finishing it. The last few nights we’ve been pouring wine back into the bottle for another day lol. Never thought I’d have the sensation of not craving more booze! All good stuff, this life without hangovers.

  36. Patrick H.

    Alcoholics are utterly dependent upon and regularly seek fast sources of sugar – alcohol being the fastest

    This is probably one of the dumbest things I’ve read in a long, long time.

    Hard alcohol doesn’t have a lot, if any carbs. Thus drinking to satisfy the brain’s supposed ‘craving’ for sugars does not make any sense.

    Think before you speak.

    That wasn’t me speaking, it was Nora Gedgaudas. But alcohol does supply the brain with quick fuel, like sugar. Alcohol cravings and sugar cravings are closely related. Ever attended an AA meeting? I did, back in the day. You’ve never seen bigger sugar addicts.

  37. Nameless

    I saw anorexia & bulimia mentioned in a comment from 5/5/09. I can speak from experience on bulimia … going to a low carb/high fat (“kinda paleo”) diet has made all the difference in the world for me. Before I was always chasing a good feeling of full … and it was impossible on a high carb, lowfat diet. I could eat and eat until I was uncomfortably full but I still wasn’t fulfilled, if that makes sense. Then I would purge as much as possible and for a little while, the “uncomfortably full” feeling stuck around and overwhelmed my hunger and I actually felt not hungry without feeling stuffed to sickness. It would never last long though.

    However … as soon as I dropped the sugar, wheat and other starches from my diet and put no limit on meat, fat and non-starchy veggies (with limited nuts/fruits thrown in) it changed everything. I was completely fulfilled. I have not purged once since I started, and the only time I felt tempted was when I overate fruits & nuts. I don’t think there’s any research on this topic but it may make for an interesting discussion. Those of us who would never admit to being bulimic in “real life” may be more willing to share our stories over the anonymous internet.

    Let’s hope more people are willing to tell others what made the difference.

  38. Helen

    hi, i have just read the book also, and have previously followed low carb diets. Though I’m not Anorexic or Bulimiac. but one of nameless’s comments hit the nail on the head. Cravings returned when eating fruit and nuts. I have recently taken sugar out of my diet completely, after reading David Gillespie’s book Sweet Poison. How much sugar we eat without knowing it. even when you think you are sugar free, you are not. Have you looked at the many fillers put into processed foods that are not actually counted as a sugar on the label. But our body converts to Fructose once in our system, which makes us crave sugar. such additives as Maple syrup, Mannitol, Sorbitol, Even pure honey, Inulin Agave syrup, Fructose, Fruit Juice Extract, to name a few. His book is worth looking at, and an easy read. There is a website.
    there is also a follow on book from that book. will be interested in any comments from anyone who has read it.
    thought might shed some light on Nameless’s comment about return of temptation once eating fruit and nuts, though nuts are ok. Just the sugar in the fruit.
    won’t comment any further, it’s a must was through his book that lead me to this site eventually, as I seeked more information.

    1. Lindy Merry

      Zoe Harcombe explains that there is pure carbohydrate: sucrose, & pure fat: lard, & that most foods are a combination of protein with EITHER carbohydrates OR fat. Nuts, on the other hand, contain all 3 macro-nutrients, & this is an irresistible combination that often leads to overeating. It is this combination that is in most addictive processed foods.

  39. Miana

    I got a lot out of this post. Aside from the Russian research that specifies unprocessed acetaldehyde in the brain stimulating opiate receptors in the brain (due to distorted mitochondria in the livers of some test subjects), this is the most practical explanation of what has caused me to relapse in the past. I was miserable much of the time as a vegetarian, and I pined for that bliss that only alcohol seemed to be able to deliver. Now that I’ve cut out a lot of the sugar and been eating far more of a Paleo diet, I’ve been a LOT happier. My sense of humor has been strong the last year, and without that, I could never stay sober. Grass-finished beef, grass-fed butter and yogurt, salmon, eggs, greens, berries, supplements, and keeping potatoes and rice to a minimum have made sobriety a much more feasible thing.

  40. Emily

    I wonder how much of it is absence of fat, rather than presence of carbohydrates. Everyone’s different, but lacking fat is what made my psyche a mess for most of my life.

    I’ve had anxiety since I was about 8 or 9 years old. I used to lie awake at night worrying and feeling guilty about absolutely everything. Nuclear war was a big one. Yes, I felt personal guilt as a child over the possibility of nuclear war. It got worse as I got older, until in my late 30s (just a short time ago), I was lying awake feeling guilty that my life was so much better than that of women who lived before the 20th century! I thought it was a combination of life circumstances and genetics, and that I’d need extensive therapy which I cannot afford to get over.

    Then I found a bunch of studies showing a correlation between a lower rate of strokes in women and a higher intake of dairy fat. Strokes are how women in my family die. I’d been eating low-fat since I was a kid, because my mother is very conscientious and that’s what the experts said to do. I was very conscientious myself, so when I took over my food choices, I cut out even more fat and salt. I even cut out meat for a while, and I felt better for it. I realize in retrospect that when I cut out meat, I ate a lot more cheese, eggs, and nuts, and so I actually got more fat as a lacto-ovo vegetarian than as a lean-meat eating omnivore.

    The day I switched to whole milk, my anxiety disappeared. Just one glass effectively treated this debilitating mental issue I’ve had my whole life. It was not an outcome I was expecting. I’d never seen anything about this. I drink one glass of whole milk nearly every day now and I feel like a different person. Little things and things I can do nothing about no longer worry me. I have the energy to feel much more deeply about things I can do something about.

    I can no longer commiserate with all my female friends and family who have severe anxiety — nearly all of whom are on some kind of low-fat, low-salt, low-joy diet, even if they’re (supposedly) not trying to lose weight. I think it’s a modern form of self-flagellation. They all know what helped me, but they’re all expert-followers, and of course it’s very difficult for most people to give up beliefs they’ve had their whole lives.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Lierre Keith wrote of a similar experience in The Vegetarian Myth. When she finally drank some cream after years of being a vegan, she was lifted out of an ongoing feeling of depression.

  41. Erika

    This makes total sense. I’ve often commented that it seems most people who stop drinking are constantly snacking on M&Ms. I always wondered if alcoholics had basically a sugar addiction.

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