Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Evolutionary Test

The so-called Paleolithic diet asks us to make our dietary decisions from an evolutionary point of view. It does not require that we simply copy a hunter-gatherer diet. (To do such a thing would be impossible in any case. There was not a single hunter-gatherer diet. There were many. They were different at different times and at different places.) Recapitulation is not the goal. Instead we are asked to consider the sorts of nutrients - both macro and micro - on which hunter-gatherers seemed to thrive and to incorporate these into our diet in the same proportions as did hunter-gatherers.

The Paleolithic diet also does not condemn all neolithic and modern foods. Rather it would have us consider carefully which we choose to eat. Of some of these "new" foods, it is not at all skeptical. If they are of the same sort as foods eaten by hunter-gatherers, this is good prima facie evidence that they are acceptable. But if some new food is unlike anything eaten in quantity by hunter-gatherers, it would have us be quite skeptical of it. Grains are of this sort, as are refined sugars. Even if we did not know of the pernicious consequences of these so-called foods, the Paleolithic diet would have us eschew them. It is possible, of course, that a new food unlike anything eaten by hunter-gatherers might eventually absolve itself. But the burden of proof would be high.

The Paleolithic diet thus imposes a kind of evolutionary test. Certain kinds of foods nourished us as we evolved into the creatures we are now. Eat foods of this kind, the Paleolithic diet tells us, and eat them in the same ratios as they were eaten by hunter-gatherers.

I find that this evolutionary test quite helpful. It can help to weed out dubious claims.

For example, nutritionists will often tell us that carbohydrate is necessary to our diet and that we should eat it many times a day. This is how we're supposed to keep up our energy levels. That's bullshit. Primates first climbed down out of the trees over 2 million years ago. We did so to hunt, and for millions of years we thrived on a diet high in animal protein and fat. Now, just how plausible is it that we need the energy burst that carbs provide every few hours? Not so very damn plausible at all. What kind of hunters would we be if we couldn't keep up a hunt for any length of time? Dead ones. Extinct ones.

The simple fact is that we can go for long periods with no carbs at all and still maintain our energy levels. And how is this possible? When we burn fat instead. When we are primed to burn fat (as we will be if we eat a low-carb, high-fat diet), we can access our own fat stores easily and without any drop in energy level.

Indeed the evolutionary test suggests that we need little or no carbohydrate at all in our diet. Early humans spread all over the globe and came to live in places that experience harsh winters. There would be nothing to gather in the winter months. There would be no plant-foods stored, for humans did not yet cultivate crops. Instead the only food supply would have come from the hunt. And we must suppose that the quality of that food would have been very high. It allowed us not only to simply live but to hunt another day. This means that it allowed us to thrive, for the only successful hunter is a healthy hunter.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Diet and Obesity: What Causes What?

Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes' attempt to bring down the current nutritional paradigm, should be read more than once. I'm on my second time through.

Let me attempt to distill the argument down to its essentials. It has both a negative and a positive aspect. The negative is its criticism of current nutritional science. The positive is its construction of a causal arrow to explain the explosion in obesity and its associated diseases. I'll lay out the positive first. (I will simplify but will take care to say nothing flatly false.)

Let us consider the so-called SAD - the Standard American Diet. It is a diet rich in sugars and starches. The root cause of obesity in those who eat the SAD, Taubes argues, is the quality of the calories ingested. When we eat carbohydrate-rich foods such as sugar, wheat, rice and potatoes, this leads to a spike in insulin. This spike in insulin results both in an increase in fat stores and in an too-early onset of hunger. This hunger is again sated through ingestion of sugar and starch, and thus we circle back again to fat storage and resurgent hunger.

If this is so - if, as Taubes argues, the root cause of obesity (and its attendant diseases) is the quality of the food we eat - then to attack the root of the problem, we must change not the amount but the kind of foods we eat. We must, in a word, cut out the carbs. The sugars must go; the starches must go. They must be replaced by an increase in fat and protein. (Just how much of each? This is not the place to answer, but I will say that we must lose our fear of fat. Fat does a body good.) If this is so, the body will no longer find itself in fat-storage mode. Fat stores will be released; pounds will be shed. Moreover, the body will seek out its proper weight, and the maintenance of that weight will be just as much a matter of homeostatic equilibrium as is body temperature. If we give the body the proper sort of food, then the body will adjust to fluctuations in caloric intake so that it might maintain an ideal weight. Less than is necessary and it will raid its own fat and protein stores; more than is necessary and it will "turn up the thermostat" and simply burn the excess calories off.

Now let's consider the negative aspect of Taubes' argument. This is his brilliant critique of the diet and nutrition and status quo. That status quo would have us believe that the body does not seek out an ideal weight, that it will always put on extra weight if fed an excess of calories. It will not adjust. It will burn calories at the same rate no matter what we eat or how much. If this were so, then to attack the root cause of obesity, we must simply convince the obese to eat less, and indeed this would be the only way to attack the obesity epidemic. Obesity is, on this view, a matter of behavior and behavior alone. The obese choose to overeat, and as a result they grow fat.

Taubes' objection to this is that it gets the direction of the causal arrow wrong. Of course the obese eat more than they use; if they did not, they could never have gained weight. But that this is so does not imply that their overindulgence is the cause of their obesity. Indeed another hypothesis has much stronger empirical support. The other hypothesis flips the direction of causation. On it, we aren't fat because we overeat. Instead it would be much closer to the truth to say that we overeat because we are fat. The same mechanism that drives fat accumulation - spikes in insulin production - is the very same mechanism that drives us to overeat. This mechanism is the product of the quality of the food we eat. It comes about because we eat too little fat and protein and too much carbohydrate.

Here's a little suggestion. Give a low-carb diet a try for two weeks. Cut out all sugar (except for the minimal amounts contained in low-carb vegetables). Cut out all grains and potatoes. Eat meat and fat to satiety, and make certain that those fats are of the "old" sort - tallow, lard, butter, olive oil and nut oils. Observe your weight. Compare your new energy levels to those from before. (You might feel unwell in the first few days. Some do, some don't. The body has to undergo a basic metabolic transformation. It has to transform from a machine that burns carbs to one that burns fat.) I do believe that you will find that Taubes' arrow of causality is the right one. You won't be hungry, but you will begin to burn off your fat stores and lose weight; and if you're anything like me (or the thousands of other folks who've done the same) you'll feel great.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I feel as if we here in the U.S. have gone astray. I feel that something has gone very wrong.

I take myself to know that the Standard American Diet (SAD) has been a disaster. We're fatter and sicker than we've ever been. We're weak and indolent. We're fearful. We're resentful. This is all due in part (in greater part I think) to our diet.

But it's not only our diet that's gone far off track. There's much else wrong too. I see it in my students. Many are passive. Many don't value their education; many don't take an active role in it. Many just sit back, listen a little, work a little, and hope for the best. They seem to have little idea of what it means to actually learn a thing. You can't just sit back. You've gotta get up off your behind and get to work, and you've gotta get help if you can't do it by yourself. Lord have mercy! I don't know how many times I've begged students at risk to come to me with their questions only to watch them miss even the most simple problems on test day. Was it that they didn't really know that they didn't get it? Probably not. It's just that they didn't really care.

Why didn't they care? Why do I watch my foreign-born students work their little brown butts off while their many of their peers from the U.S. just sit there? Here's my guess. We here in the U.S. have come to take our prosperity for granted. We take it for granted that, no matter how much we screw around, everything will turn out fine. This was true for awhile - perhaps from 1945 until just a few years ago. But it ain't true anymore. The economy has tanked, and it's not gonna come back anytime soon. What was true before has become true again: If you screw around, you might just be screwed. My students from India, Mexico and China know this. My students from the U.S. don't. They figure they'll be fine no matter what. I'll predict that they'll suffer for this.

Here's a list of other deep problems in our culture. I'm sure that you could add to the list. I'm sure that I could too.

The sexualization of youth
The proliferation of pornography
The scourge of drug and alcohol abuse
The endless hours spent inside in front of a monitor or television
The endless hours at work and the resultant neglect of family
The millions of children born out of wedlock

But why focus on the negative? Isn't there some good here too? Of course there is. But the good is on the retreat. The bad is ascendant. We have to get hold of the bad and beat it back down. But this we'll never do until we know where it comes from.

I have an idea about the source of our problems. There's a thread that runs through all the problems, a thread that binds them all together. We've come to embrace fakes! Take, for example, the crap that we eat - all the bread, pasta, candy, soda, and all the rest. It's all fake food. Yes, it's food-like. Yes, the body can run off it (not well, of course, but it does at least prevent starvation). But it's not the real thing. The real thing is what we were made to eat. The real thing is meat (and a bit of fruit and vegetable). Grains are new food - a mere 10,000 years old at most. Refined sugar is new food. Soy is new food. Moreover, we've come to find that they're not good food. They rot the body from the inside. I'd call them fakes.

Another example. Students today don't know what it is to really learn a thing. They think that education is something that just happens. Of course that's as wrong-headed as wrong-headed can be. They've accepted a sham, a mock-up, for the real thing. Education is an active, focused endeavor. It's work. Many students don't get that. They've accepted a sham, a mock-up, for the real thing. I suspect that they don't even know what the real thing is.

Pornography is obvious fakery.

Drugs cause fake experiences. Yes I know that the highs are intensely pleasurable. But the mind wasn't made to experience that sort of pleasure whenever we happen to want it. It was meant to be rare, and when we make it common we've created a sham. (We destroy ourselves too, just like with SAD.)

I'll end here. But I have a challenge for you. Look back over my list. In every case we've allowed ourselves to be fooled. We've fallen for the allure of an easy fake. Try to explain why. (It shouldn't cause you too much trouble. The fakery is plain.)

Here's the moral if you missed it. Don't accept fakes. They make you sick, stupid and miserable. Demand the real thing. Do what's necessary to get it. It's out there. Find out what it is and got after it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


My 42nd birthday is near. I figure that I'm now somewhere near half-way done.

When the summer began, I weighed in at 240. I am 6'2'', but that's just too damn fat.

I wasn't just fat. I was weak too. And tired, always tired. And when 5 o'clock would roll around, the call of the bottle was irresistible

I'm down to 205, but I figure that I've lost more than 35 lbs. I've put a bit of muscle on. And I'm not tired all the time. I only begin to feel tired when it's time for bed, and I'm out within a few minutes after my head hits the pillow.

My mind is sharper too. My memory is perhaps better than it's ever been, and I find it much easier to focus for long periods. How much that I would have attributed to age would have really been the result of poor health? How much loss of mental acuity, how much diminution in strength and flexibility, how much disease is not an inevitable concomitant of age but is rather the result of the accumulated ravages of malnutrition?

When I think back and ask myself why I made the change when I did, I can answer only this: I didn't want to hit 42 in a state of decline. Perhaps it is a fear of death, or a fear of frailty. I don't know. (We all have depths that we never plumb.) But I do know this: I needed a change.

And what was that change? The change was dietary, nothing more. I'm still astounded by how much one can change about one's life with a change of diet. Mood can change. Energy level and thus activity level too can change. Skin, hair, teeth and nails can change. Sleep can change. (Change for me went very deep indeed. I've undergone a profound shift in world-view. More on this in a later post.)

What was the change in diet? What did I begin to do differently? I began to eat the diet that evolution shaped me to eat. (The idea that there is an evolutionarily optimal diet is a powerful one. I'm persuaded that there is such a thing, and that it's very different from what many would suppose it to be.) Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers. They are meat (and not only the lean parts). They ate vegetables. They are fruit. They ate nuts.

But let us be clear. They were nomadic, and they followed the herds of their prey. Meat - and I mean the whole of the animal, nose to tail - was prized above all else. When they could get enough of it, it would comprise all or nearly all of their diet.

Thus I began to eat much more meat, and I radically increased my fat intake. I do eat a bit of fruits and vegetables, but they comprise no more than 10% of my caloric intake. I don't run off carbs. I run off fat. It is my primary source of energy.

It should be clear by implication what I do not eat. I do not eat grains, whether refined or whole. I do not eat sugar in any refined form. I eat no rice. I eat no potatoes. Starches in all forms I've banished from my diet. I've not had a bite of bread in 3 months, nor even a single grain of rice. I've not had corn in any form, or the least hint of sugar added to any of my foods. (I have been rather strict with myself.)

And I feel better now than I ever have before. For once, I don't feel sick and tired.

Does it seem like too great a change? Does it seem like too much to give up? What would you give up for your health. What would you give up for constant energy? For good sleep? For freedom from disease? For greater equanimity? For increased acuity?

Of course it can be difficult. But I believe that you will find that the new way is, all things considered, easier than the old. You'll no longer have to battle fatigue as you once did. The fog in your brain will clear. You won't crash and then stuff yourself with carbs. (Lord God in heaven! How many times I did that!)

So I'll say what I have said before. Give it a chance. Treat it as an experiment if you like. Give it 2 weeks. If you get better, keep it up. If you don't, turn elsewhere. But don't just dismiss it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

We'll Fix You!

A certain pernicious idea seems to have taken hold here in the U.S. The idea is that human life - the typical life we all lead - is pathological in a variety of ways and that we must turn to the experts to fix us.

We were told that our diet - a diet high in nutrient rich foods like animal protein and fat - caused heart disease and that we must therefore give it up. The inevitable result? Carbohydrate consumption skyrocketed. This has been a disaster. A low fat, low protein diet is one on which we are never sated. Insulin spikes after a high-carbohydrate meal. The body lays down fat. Glucose levels drop plummet. The body cries out Starvation!, and we eat another high-carbohydrate meal.

Ignore the experts, say I! Go back to a human diet, the diet for which the human body is designed, the diet that fed our first ancestors. (This is the core idea behind the Paleolithic diet.) Eat traditional fats and animal proteins until you reach satiety. Make them your primary fuel source. Add a bit of fruit and vegetables as you like. It's as simple as that. Ignore the expert who tells you to eat a low-fat diet and to restrict calories. They've told you to do the impossible. They've told you not be human.

We're also told by the experts that we need to exercise. Ignore it! Activity is not a duty. It isn't a treatment. It's the natural human condition. If you think that you must exercise to be fit, you've damn near got it exactly backwards. In early human communities, fitness would be absolutely essential to survival. But do you think that evolution would leave anything essential to survival up to something so fickle as human will and intention? The idea is absurd of course. Whatever is needed for survival is something that will come automatically if conditions are right. But what conditions must obtain if we are to be fit? What is of greatest importance here is what we put in our bellies. Put the right fuel in and the body will be fit. You know by now what I think the right fuel is. It's meat, baby. It's meat.

Don't think that I counsel sloth, that I think that we will be fit if we sit on our asses all day. Not at all. Of course activity and fitness are closely linked. But the causal arrow doesn't run from activity to fitness. Rather (to a first approximation) it runs the other way around. Fitness causes activity. If you are fit, you will feel a need to get the body in motion.

Let me try to drive the point home. The experts would have us believe that fitness is a consequence of a steely will. We must make ourselves get up and exercise, they say. We must whip ourselves into shape. That just ain't true. If you find that activity take an effort of will, something has gone wrong. Fix the problem, and activity - often strenuous activity - becomes just as natural as to breath or to eat. How do you fix it! Eat right! Grains ain't human food! Sugar ain't human food!

One final example. I was quite dismayed to find that a number of psychiatrists have come to the conclusion that at most a few weeks of severe depression should follow the loss of a loved one. What a terrible, terrible idea! Again the idea seems to be that we can't allowed to be human, that we can't love deeply and thus mourn deeply. The experts know better! They'll fix us!

My advice here is to cast a skeptical eye upon the pronouncements of an expert when it contradicts what you take to be plain common sense. Don't let them control you. Don't assume that they always know better. They're just plain folks like you.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Unexpected Changes

I've experienced all of the expected changes now that I've begun to eat Paleo: increased vigor, weight loss and increase in muscle mass.

But I've also experienced a number of very welcome unexpected changes too.

1. Better Sleep. I sleep better now than I ever have before (at least since I've been an adult). I'm asleep within 10 minutes after my head hits the pillow and I sleep soundly through the night.

2. Greater Mental Acuity. I'm sharper that I I've ever been. I can focus for longer periods of time, and I can follow through on more complex lines of thought. This is welcome indeed.

3. Greater Power of Memory. I find it easier to recall facts. Names of people I know come to be more quickly than before. I also find it easier to lay down new memories. When I was young I never needed bookmarks. I could simply remember the page number when I left the book. When in my 20s, I lost this ability. Now at 41 it's back. I don't even have to try. I simply glance at the page number and then can easily remember it when I come back.

4. Get-Up-and-Go! I did expect that my energy would increase. But I was surprised to find that I now feel a strong need to get up off my ass and get in motion. It's not just that I now find it easier to get up and go. Rather I find it hard to stay in one place for an extended period of time.

5. Fewer Symptoms of Disease. A few weeks ago I had a cold. But I didn't realize that I had a cold until a few days in. The only symptoms were a bit of fatigue, a mild headache and just a tiny bit of a stuffy nose. That's much less severe that I used to experience.

6. Difference in Appetite. I used to crave carbs of all kinds: alcohol (more on that in a moment), candy, chips and all the rest. That thankfully is a thing of the past. They almost don't seem like food to me anymore. I don't like them.

7. Aversion of Alcohol. I used to drink. Late in the afternoon, oh about 5 or so, I'd begin to crave a drink; and I always indulged. Now I don't crave it at all. In fact most days I don't even think about it. What a relief that is. It saves money and brain cells too.

8. Acne. It's almost all gone. For the first time since I was 12, it's almost all gone. Hurray!

9. Helio Philia. I used to dislike the sun. Now I love it. I seek it out, and if I can't get into for at least a good half hour I feel deprived. I have much greater tolerance for the sun now too. I'm quite fair-skinned, and the sun used to bother me. Now it doesn't.

10. Clean Teeth. My teeth used to remain clean for only a little bit after I brushed. Most of the time they were covered with plaque. (I know, I know - Yuck!) Now they're slick and clean all of the time. Moreover (and this was a very great surprise to me) old stains have begun to disappear. My teeth are whiter now than they've been in years.

11. Greater Patience. I'm still no Gandhi, but I don't anger nearly as quickly as I used to. At one time I took my quickness to anger as a sign of a moral failure, as a sign of failure of will. Now I'm suspicious of that. I was prone to anger because I felt bad most of time. Now I feel good most of the time because I put the right fuel in my body.

In short, I had no idea that the belly and what's put in it are so important. A calorie is most certainly not a calorie. Not all calories are the same.

Sometimes I just say to myself "Goddamn I feel good!"

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Moral Vegetarianism

Vegetarians buttress their view with many kinds of argument. Some claim health benefits. These I reject out of hand.

Others claim that only a vegetarian diet is consistent with a proper regard for the sustainability of our methods of food production. Meat, vegetarians say, is simply to costly to produce. I do have some respect for this argument. I don't buy it, but it's worthy of our consideration. I hope to research the issue more fully and return to it in a later post. (Here's a statement of the principle of my counter-argument: the fact that there's some good thing that only a few can enjoy does not imply that those few should give it up.)

The last sort of argument - the one that I will consider here - is purely moral. It claims that, apart from issues of health and sustainability, one ought not eat meat because it is wrong to kill an animal so that its flesh might be consumed. This argument seems ubiquitous. I can't recall the number of times I've been exhorted not to eat the flesh of a dead animal. Such language - "flesh of a dead animal" - has two points, I take it. First it's meant to disgust a reader and thus make her give up meat. Second it's meant to persuade the reader that consumption of meat is morally wrong.

The trouble with this argument is that it pits human beings against nature; if cogent, it lifts us outside the natural order and renders us profoundly unnatural. It makes us judges of nature and requires that we judge it evil. Let me explain.

(I apologize. I'll sound like an academic philosopher for a moment here. But that was how was trained. Academic philosophy does have its uses.)

If we shouldn't do something - like murder, say - that's because the thing we'll bring about if we do it is in itself bad. If I murder someone, for example, the thing I bring about - a person's unjust death - is very bad; and thus it's wrong to murder. The principle at work here is No Harm, No Foul. If the thing I do has no bad consequence, it can't be wrong. Or to turn it around, if I do something wrong, it's wrong because of the bad consequences it has.

Now consider moral vegetarianism in the light of this principle. It tells us that meat consumption is in itself wrong. But how could this be? How can we explain why it's intrinsically wrong? It could be wrong only if it brings about something bad. But would that bad thing be? Here I can think of only one answer: it's wrong to eat meat because by so doing we bring about the death of an animal, and that's a bad thing.

This last claim - the claim that an animal's death is a bad thing - has one little problem. It's obviously, blatantly false. For if it's true, nature is shot through with a great number of bad things. A troupe of lions go on a hunt. They bring down a wildebeest. Was this bad in any way? Would the world have been better had it not happened? I say no, and I'll bet my eye teeth that you will too. (Be careful here. I don't mean to say that the moral vegetarian will, or should, blame the tiger. Tigers can't choose not to kill, of course, and so can't be blamed when they do so. Indeed the concept of blame seems entirely out of place here. But I do mean to say that the moral vegetarian should say that something bad has happened here, though the tiger bears no blame for it.)

Is it really a bad thing when one animal becomes a meal for another? Is it really bad when one animal kills another so that it might "consume its dead flesh". Of course not. This is just how nature works, and unless you wish to say that nature is a bad thing, you simply cannot say that killing and eating are bad.

One last note. I don't mean to endorse the modern system of industrial agriculture. The fact that I think that there's nothing in the least intrinsically wrong about eating meat doesn't imply that I have to condone just any method of raising and killing. These are distinct issues. Don't confuse them.

Eggs over Easy

Now that I've cut all starch out of my diet, I find that I'm often not hungry until noon. When I do get hungry, I get hungry for eggs.

Eggs are cheap, even organic eggs from free-range chickens. They cost me about $3.50 per dozen. Well worth the price.

Here's how I most often make them.

Step 1: Put a non-stick pan over medium-low for about 10 mins. It's best to have the pan warm before you begin to cook.

Step 2: Drop in about 2 tbsp. of butter. Swirl pan until all butter is melted and entire pan is coated.

Step 3. Carefully crack two or three eggs into the pan. I like mine over easy, but do as you please. (My advice: don't cook the yolks through. A runny yolk is one of life's great pleasures.)

Step 4: Pour entire contents of pan into a bowl, break the yolks and mix with the butter. I find the experience utterly delightful, and when I make this my noon meal I'm not hungry again until late in the afternoon.

Paradigm Shift: Homeostasis

When I look back, I suspect that I embraced the so-called "Thrifty Gene Hypothesis" for the whole of my adult life. How I regret that now!

TGH tells us that we are built to put on extra weight when food is plentiful so that we might survive the periods of famine that were common when Homo sapiens first arose. If true, the so-called "obesity epidemic" is just what we should expect. Today food is plentiful, cheap and easily obtained. The Thrifty Gene drives us to eat, and we put on the fat that in a time of famine would prove so advantageous. But since we today experience no times of famine, we continue to accumulate fat throughout the whole of our lives and thus make ourselves vulnerable to the so-called diseases of civilization.

On TGH, the so-called diseases of civilization are really diseases of abundance; wherever we find long periods of caloric abundance, there too we will find the diseases of civilization.

The TGH, though perhaps plausible at first glance, is certainly without ground. In fact, it is most likely false. (My objections are not the only ones possible.)

1. History presents us with many examples of peoples who lived in a time and place of caloric abundance but were not fat. Let us consider one that we all know - mid 20th century United States. It was a time of caloric abundance. Food was cheap and universally available. Yet we were not nearly so fat as we are today. This is a counter-example to the TGH.

2. Peoples exist today who have more than enough to eat yet never grow fat. The Masai are but one of many examples. (They are a favorite example of mine. They are such a beautiful people - fit, healthy, lean and happy. They are a model of what the human animal is supposed to be.) Please, do research them. They eat well (at least those that still adhere to the traditional ways) but they do no grow fat.

3. The Thrifty Gene (if it exists) makes us sick in times of plenty. Thus it would be selected for only if the benefit it bestows outweighs the harm it does. The benefit (allegedly) is the ability to survive longer in times of famine. Here's the problem: we don't know what our species arose in a time when famine was common. Indeed we likely arose in a time of plenty. We are hunters by nature, and game was plenty.

4. Moreover, TGH seems to imply that we would always be sick. In times of plenty, we would grow fat and become sick. In times of famine, we would be sick. (Famine is mass starvation. Starvation ravages the human body.) But I find it implausible in the extreme that we are sick by design.

5. Finally, my last objection, the one that I think most important. TGH gets the human animal dead wrong. We are made to be lean and fit. This is our natural state, and any deviation from it implies pathology. Let the point sink in. (It took a long with me.) If you're fat (as I was for such a very long time), that's pathology. If you're always tired, that's pathology. If you are chronically hungry or if you chronically overeat, that's pathology. What is the cause of that pathology? From where does it come? For the great majority of us, it comes from malnutrition. We eat foods that, if made staples, are poisons. These are the high-carbohydrate, micronutrient poor foods. These are the bread, rice and potatoes. These are the beers and wines. These are the sugars.

Let me put the point this way. Proper weight is as much a part of homeostasis as is temperature. The body seeks to maintain proper weight, and it will if it's able. When we consume foods high in carbohydrate, we render the body ever less capable to maintain proper weight (and we make it ever more susceptible to the diseases of civilization). Feed the body right, and it will of itself bring the weight down; and it will do this whether caloric intake is more or less than calories used. The body will adjust. If caloric intake is restricted, metabolism will be retarded. If caloric intake is greater than needed, metabolism will be ramped up. The body will keep itself lean and fit if only it's allowed to do so.

And why would it do so? Why would this be favored by evolution? We are hunters. We are made to run, to lift, to twist and to jump. We are made to sweat. The body will do its damnedest to keep us ready to do these things. All we need to do is let it.

Paradigm Shift: Exercise

My paradigm of proper diet has undergone a profound shift. Gary Taubes is the cause.

I once thought that exercise was a duty and that, if I did not exercise, this revealed a defect of will. I thought too that indolence was a condition to which all humanity tends and that this tendency must be met by a steely will.

Thus when I did not exercise, I felt guilty; and I looked down on others who were in poor shape.

I now reject this. If we are out of shape, this is not the result of a moral defect. It is rather the result of disease, and in most of us this disease has its root cause in malnutrition.

If we were to eat right, we would be more energetic; and if we were more energetic, we would quite naturally and inevitably rise up off our asses and put our bodies in motion.

I don't mean to say that we'd run to the gym. Some will. Some won't. I don't. But we will become more active. We will feel a need to rise up, to move the legs and arms and likely to seek out the sun. (I thus suggest that we give up on the concept of exercise. It has about it an air of duty, of obligation and so of difficulty. Let us instead speak simply of activity.)

The human body is designed for activity. It was made to move, to lift, to run and to sweat. This is no less natural to it than is eating or breathing. We should feel the need for it; we should take joy in it. And we will if all goes right. If the body sinks into indolence, this is the result of profound dysfunction, and I contend that this dysfunction is almost always brought on my improper diet.

Eat as our first ancestors ate. Eat a Paleolithic diet. You'll want to get up out of that chair and get the body in motion. (I'm off to take a walk. Not because I think I should but because I feel an itch to move.)

Sorry Shape

I was in sorry shape. I was fat. I drank too often and to excess. I slept poorly. I was weak. I was prone to infection. I was often exhausted. My memory was poor; mental acuity (a trait that I value highly) had begun to wane. I often felt stressed. I felt good only one day in ten.

I thought it was own damn fault. If only I could get hold of myself and make myself do better, I thought, I could change all this. I could make myself eat less - and better. I could make myself put the bottle down. (It was a bottle and not a can. I drank bourbon, most often Evan Williams.) I could make myself exercise and whip my flabby body into shape.

I've come to think that all this was bullshit. (Not just wrong, but bullshit. I was more than wrong. I was full of shit. I don't mean to offend, but English offers no other way to make the point.) Now of course I wasn't the only one full of shit. The culture around us pounds the point in. It says that obesity is a matter of will and will alone. If someone is obese, it is a result either of indolence, gluttony or both. Our culture tells us that obesity is a result of moral flaw, of vice; and it demands that we reject vice for virtue and make ourselves into better beings.

I suggest to you that you reject all this. I suggest that you reject the view that obesity (and its attendant diseases) is a sign of vice.

I don't mean to say that if you're obese, you're a helpless victim. You are a victim, but you are not helpless. What you lack is a knowledge of the real cause of your obesity. It does not lie in weakness of will, and thus its solution does not lie in moral reform. Rather the real cause is malnutrition. If you're fat, you don't give your body what it needs. (Most of you, anyway. I mean to speak only of the most common cause of obesity.)

I will not attempt to prove the point. Others have already done so. I refer you to Gary Taubes'Good Calories, Bad Calories. It's a seminal work. I do not know whether it will result in a paradigm change, but it should.

Let me say only that I am persuaded of the point. The cause of obesity is malnutrition. Now that I've begun to give my body what it needs, the problems that I described at the start - weakness, exhaustion, obesity and all the rest - have either resolved or have begun to resolve. (I value most the greater power of memory and the greater mental acuity. I'm an academic by trade.)

If you're unfamiliar with Taubes, you will wonder just what I mean when I say that obesity (and all that other ills that attend obesity) is caused by malnutrition. I'll keep it simple. Rice, wheat, tubers, legumes and refined sugar - indeed all carbohydrate rich, micronutrient poor foods - became part of the human diet only very recently. Our bodies our not adapted to them. If we make them staples (as almost all of humanity has done), we become afflicted by the so-called "diseases of civilization" - obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease, certain common cancers, and certain forms of dementia. (The list is not complete. Google "diseases of civilization".) We must then make them a small part of our diet. We must also cease to fear meat and fat. They are not causes of disease. To the contrary, they are the most nutritious foods we eat. We need meat. We needs fats. They should comprise half or more of the calories we eat. Thus are our bodies designed.

What then shall we eat? We will eat those foods for which the human body is designed. We will eat a Paleolithic diet. We will eat meat and the fat of meat. We will eat vegetables and fruits. We will eat fish. (Indeed we will not shun fatty fish. Fatty fish will be happily eaten.) We will eat nuts. (Will we eat dairy? I eat a bit. Research the matter yourself. Observe how your body handles dairy. Make your own decision.)

But we will eat little wheat. Or rice. Or potatoes. Or sugar of any kind. If a food is carbohydrate and little else, it will only seldom pass our lips. Our Paleolithic diet is thus naturally low in carbohydrates but is high in protein, fats, fiber and essential micronutrients.

Let me end with a request. Research the Paleolithic diet. Try it. Observe the results. I predict that they will be spectacular.